Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Deborah Ellis

I have just returned from taking Deborah Ellis to her hotel after her last presentation during the Victoria leg of her western tour. I have spent the last several days listening to Deb address the effects of war, aids, poverty, and the drug trade on the lives of children with audiences that ranged from grade four students to senior citizens. The importance of the themes that Deb’s stories bring to the forefront are especially evident in the questions the young people in her audience ask; questions like how can kids live in prisons, why can’t kids who are sick get the medicine they need, and why can’t girls go to school in Afghanistan? Many will have read The Breadwinner, Pavanah's Journey and Mud City, but Deborah Ellis has written many other books. She is no one trick pony, despite this label she so often gives to herself. She is about shaking us out of our complacency and about empowering young people to demand more of our world and it's inhabitants. She is about social justice.

Not surprisingly, I was excited to hear that Deb has turned her compassionate yet critical storyteller’s eye on North American. Jakeman will be the title of her next novel. It's about kid whose mother goes to prison. It's about poverty and the feeling of being powerless, but it's also about alter-egos and about kids taking back their power. I can hardly wait to read it.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

The Power of Lucky & Three Wishes

So what do The Higher Power of Lucky and Three Wishes have in common? Read on...

It’s unbelievable. The controversy around this year’s Newbery Award-winner, The Higher Power of Lucky by Susan Patron is growing in leaps and bounds. The ugly head of censorship has been rearing it’s head in the New York Times, on Publisher Weekly’s Website, and in blog after blog. It seems that a lot of librarians have trouble with the word “scrotum”, and that’s enough to keep the book away from sensitive young readers! I must admit that I agree totally with Ms. Patron who explained that scrotum is a “delicious” word. Unbelievable, and of course one of the many ironies (I’m not even going to go into sex-driven advertising or music videos here) is that as the ‘ban the book frenzy’ reaches it’s peak, we are just about to celebrate Freedom to Read Week. Don’t they get it? Banned books are wildly appealing to the young and curious, as I first learned back in the 1960’s when J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye was banned from my high school. Even the kids who had an aversion to reading devoured that book (or at least key passages of it). So, congratulations Ms. Patron. You can expect to sell more books and you are in very good company!

It was only a year ago that a huge controversy developed when one school district in Ontario chose to drop Deborah Ellis’ Three Wishes: Palestinian and Israeli Children Speak from a provincially sanctioned readers’ choice award, again just as we were heading into Freedom to Read Week!

For anyone in the Victoria, BC area, the Victoria Children’s Literature Roundtable will be hosting Deb Ellis as part of our celebration of Freedom to Read Week at Spectrum Community High School @ 957 Burnside Rd in the school library @ 7:30.

Or you can go to to find out how you can celebrate this important week in your own area. Defy the censors. Read a banned book!


Thursday, February 15, 2007

What Athletes are Made of by Hanoch Piven

I came across the coolest picture book the other day and I do mean coolest. It's an information book about athletes by Hanoch Piven called What Athletes Are Made Of. Americans may know him for his earlier What Presidents Are Made Of. I confess, that as a Canadian, I didn't look twice at his earlier book. The subject just wasn't of interest. This book, though, is pure gold. Covering athletes like Michael Jordan, Lance Armstrong, David Beckham, Wayne Gretzky, Tiger Woods, Jackie Joyner-Kersee, and Joe DiMaggio, kids will get a glimpse into the lives of some of sport's greatest.

In addition to quotes and quirky bits of information about his favourite athletes, Piven added sports tidbits that kids and adults will be delighted to know at the bottom of each page. For instance, have you ever wondered what the significance of the special yellow jersey in The Tour de France? Or, do you have any idea just how fast David Beckkham's kick has been clocked at? Do you have any idea where the term "saved by the bell" comes from.

The best part of the book though, is Pavil's illustrations, especially the athletes' portraits, which are alone worth the price of the book. He uses everyday items like coke bottles, pencil sharpeners, rulers, golf balls, marbles and elastic bands in a way that those of us without an artistic outlook can only marvel at. Short biographies can also be found at the end of this most wonderful of books. Any sports lover of any age will love this fabulous picture book published by Antheum.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Wildwood Dancing by Juliet Marillier

It’s been a while since I’ve posted, but computer woes have kept me both from reading and writing. Three hard drive crashes in two weeks has convinced or shall I say forced, me to take drastic action in the form of not only a new computer but a new operating system. Yes, I’ve gone Mac...My daughter, who is a big fan tells me I will love it, but the various quirks (such as no right click) find me spending far more time reading on-line explanations of how to do what I used to on this new system. As well, I continue to try to retrieve my email and not yet backed up files from a now dead computer, and transferring backed up files into a new operating system. For instance, I spent all of last evening reentering my contacts into my new address book while many of you probably watched the Grammy’s or read a good book. All very onerous!

But enough! After finishing getting my contacts in order, I allowed myself to start a new book, Wildwood Dancing by Juliet Marillier. This fantastic first novel by Australian newcomer is downright magical and it will delight avid readers, most especially female teens. Set high in the Transylvanian woods, in a castle known as Piscul Draculi, it follows five sisters and their monthly forays into a magical realm of fairies and full moon dancing. When one of the sisters falls in love with one of the creatures of the Other Kingdom, it is left to Jenna, the practical sister, to ensure that her lovesick sister doesn’t risk all for the impossible. Meanwhile, left under the care of relatives while their father goes south for his health, their cousin Cezar moves in ostensibly to help the girls through a brutal winter. Tormented by the loss of his brother ten years earlier, Cezar has much darker motives. Can Cezar be stopped? And will Jena’s sister be lost to them forever? I

It so happens that I could tell you, but I'm sure you'd much rather enjoy the journey yourself. All I can say is if you’re anything like me, don’t start this book at bedtime! I believe it was about 4am when I finally turned the last page and turned out the light. Needless to say, this morning was no so good. Later...

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Lily and the Mixed-Up Letters by Deborah Hodge

Deborah Hodge, widely known to non–fiction readers, has come out with a new picture book with Tundra Publishers. Lily and the Mixed –Up Letters will win the hearts of both kids and adults alike. Lily used to love going to school, but now that she is in grade two, her beautiful bright pictures aren’t enough to win her praise. Instead, she is left feeling anxious and inadequate by her inability to read. Neither the words nor the letters make sense to Lily who is afraid to confide this even to her best friend Grace. Not surprisingly, Lily tries to hide her inability by feigning illness. Lily always feels better the moment she hits the playground; a telltale sign if ever there was one.

A crisis isn’t far off though. Soon everyone in Lily’s class will be expected to each read a page from their books at the upcoming Parent Day. Lily is unable to hide her distress any longer. When Lily’s mother asks her what’s wrong that night, Lily breaks down sobbing. To Lily's surprise, her mother confides that she had similar troubles reading when she was Lily's age. The knowledge that she is not alone and that her mother has successfully learned to read are healing balms for Lily. As well, her mother contacts Lily’s teacher who immediately assigns Lily a reading buddy. In the end, disclosure and support at home and at school leads to her success and to Lily “Feeling as light as a kite on the wind”.

While not all children will succeed in overcoming a reading problem as quickly and easily as Lily has, parents and educators will well know that success is much more likely with support than without it. Read this book to a class and you might help a child understand that they are not as alone as they thought they were. might just help them to start “Feeling as light as a kite on the wind” just like Lily.